I know I have been neglectful of you, and even somewhat insensitive of your needs, but I have a great reason, I promise you will be so proud of me! I am nearly done with my second book, and my days and nights have been consumed with trying to put the final touches with editing and such, you know how it is…:)
Today, I would like to share a piece of the book with you!
So, first off, the book is called A Teen’s Life. It looks at the lives of 10 different teenagers from across the globe. They are sharing their stories and struggles with me in a Dear Dr. Lulu format. I respond to their letters as best I can, and then I discuss their situations. It is statistics-heavy, it is sad and deep, but it is real. The stories are all real, but fictitious at the same time. It is essentially about youth suicide in a sense, but it is also about life, teen life. I am hoping that it serves as an eye-opener to the struggles of these youth, and hoping its readers (teens, parents, caregivers, the government, everyone) will come away with a better sense of understanding of the plight of teens and some simple but not necessarily easy solutions to tackle them.
Here is an excerpt from it. This is the portion that deals with myths about suicide. I am really proud of this…enjoy!
Before we embark on what we can all do to prevent suicide in our teens and youth, I think it is only proper to discuss some of the myths about suicide that are floating around. Debunking them will help increase awareness of their falsehood and help fill in some critical knowledge gaps.
Suicide is not a real problem; As we all know, suicide is a real problem in our world today, it is now the second leading cause of death in our youth.
Asking or talking to your teen about suicide causes suicidal behavior; Talking about suicide not only increases awareness and puts an end to the shame and stigma, but it also helps teens explore other options and keeps open communication lines.
The person/family needs more prayers and more Jesus; while having a sense of belonging to a community or spiritual group is always encouraged and actually protective of suicide it does not in of itself prevent suicide. However many suicidal persons have been known to say that when they reached out for help, they were told they were being dramatic and selfish and needed to pray more.
Religious persons do not die by suicide; just this past summer we heard about the young American pastor who was active in the mental health arena, who actually lost his life to suicide, there have been many others including a Nigerian pastor as well.
Denial: It does not happen to our ethnicity or family (Blacks, Asians); this thought process as we know is erroneous, and Black kids were recently documented as attempting and dying by suicide at a higher rate than other races.
Only a professional can identify a child at risk for suicide; one of the reasons for this book and my work in the suicide arena is to increase awareness by educating everyone about the signs so we are all more empowered.
Once someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal; for the most part, suicidal thoughts and behavior are situational and temporary. Most suicidal persons need to know that their feelings can and do pass once they are equipped with the right tools to deal with their thoughts, and have the necessary support they need.
Only people with mental illness are suicidal; When I was going through my suicidal stage, I had never been diagnosed with mental illness, I did, however, experience a lot of life challenges which shook my core and caused me to consider myself a failure and not worthy of life. During the financial crisis of 2008, there was a sharp rise in suicides as a result of the enormous financial losses these people had experienced.
Most suicides happen suddenly and without warning; we know that 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide leave a sign. The decision to suicide is hardly ever a one-off thing, it is usually a culmination of events over time leading to “overwhelmedness”, an inability to cope, and a perceived or real lack of support.
Someone who is suicidal wants to die; in all honesty, most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply want their pain, suffering and despair to end. They often feel like they have exhausted all their options and they also have the means to end their lives at that moment.
Someone who is threatening suicide is not going to carry it out; I like to say “do not underestimate the power of determination”. We can never be too sure that someone will not carry out their threat. We must, therefore, take every suicide threat seriously. Part of the reason suicide is on the rise is because these people don’t feel they have any support, they feel all alone.
People who die by suicide are selfish and taking the easy way out; because these people have been suffering for a while, majority of them actually feel like suicide not only puts an end to their suffering, it also frees them from being a burden. Many suicide attempt survivors say they feel their lives are a burden to those around them.
All in all, suicide is a complex issue, but suicide prevention must be front and center in everyone’s minds in today’s world. To find out more, you will have to wait a couple more weeks for the actual book!
I am sitting in my home office on a sunny Thursday afternoon, as I write this letter to you.
In the past year since I quit my full-time job as a pediatrician to start speaking on child, teen and young adult depression and suicide, (read about it here and here). I have discovered a different side of me. The side that loves to write, and speak. The side that is an activist for a cause. The side that was lying dormant until the passion to actively save the lives of children and teens through creating awareness was ignited when my then 7-year-old patient attempted to hang himself in May of 2018.
I have always known that medicine, pediatrics, in particular, is my life, and public speaking is second nature, so it was sort of a natural progression for me. I have never had any trouble speaking in public to air my opinion, so when this opportunity to practice medicine in the most preventative way picked me, I had no hesitation to say, a resounding…yes! As the good book says, “many are called, but only a few are chosen”.
Though I don’t know when it will get published, I couldn’t think of a better day to write this letter than today, the 12th day of September, two days after September 10, which is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. This week marks National Suicide Prevention Week 9/8 to 9/14. A week which eerily includes September 11, a day suicide bombers set our country on a never to be forgotten path, a day that will forever go down in infamy, in the month of September, suicide awareness and prevention month.
This letter is, however, not about suicide days and suicide bombers. It is about a path that has led me, a Nigerian-born mother of three, a board-certified pediatrician, to become a speaker, bestselling author, and activist on youth suicide. It is about how finding a new way to practice medicine is allowing me further my cause. Every time I tell people what I speak about, it never fails, they look up, and suddenly get interested, no matter what they were doing before I started speaking. Some look at me with concern, some look at me with disbelief, and yet some look at me with sorrow, especially when I tell them my story, my why, which you can read here. Usually, by the time I am done, a majority of my audience wants to know where they can find me, where I practice.
For the past year, my response to that line of questioning has been a combination of the following…” nowhere in particular”, “I don’t have a practice”, or “I quit medicine to speak publicly”. To which even more eyes look at me with a mix of wonder, pride, gratitude and amazement… and then after a brief thought, pretty much everyone says a combination of “that’s such an important topic” or “that’s so needed” or “wow, thank you for the work you are doing”, etc.
As I have continued to speak locally, around the country and internationally, and as the questions have continued to come in, I have had to finally admit to myself that I have missed practicing medicine. I have missed clinical practice, but most of all, I have missed having physical contact with my patients. Those who know me, know my patients are my “anti-kryptonite” (if that is a word). That been said, I have known in my heart that I did not want to go back to traditional medicine (what I call “assembly line” medicine). The kind that is run by CEOs with little or no knowledge of what it’s like to have boots on the ground. The kind that has enslaved us doctors and caused burnout to now become a household phrase. The kind that puts profit and the bottom line before patients and providers. The kind that you, me, we, did not sign up for. The kind we did not dream about in our days in medical school. The kind that has unfortunately driven too many of us (400 per year at last check) to early deaths through suicide.
I knew that kind of medical practice was definitely no longer for me. So, I tried out Locums, but with my son still being in grade school, I am unable to travel out of town as much as most locum gigs would require, plus, I am only licensed in Texas so that limits me as well. I know the hospitalist route is not for me. So, while I was still pondering my next move, I happened upon a facebook group called DPC Docs. A two-thousand strong community of doctors practicing medicine on their own terms. I had actually heard of DPC about 2 years ago. Direct Primary Care. Three words that are turning out to be life-changing for those of us who care to look closer, look further and farther, think outside the box, and dare to be bold enough to say “enough already” to the big bosses and take back our lives.
I happily jumped in with two feet. You see, Direct Primary Care is exactly what Dr. Universe ordered for me. A spin-off of Concierge Medicine, DPC seeks to allow doctors to practice medicine the way it was meant to be. I had heard about it through a podcast that featured one of the true pioneers in DPC practice Dr. Josh Umbehr of Atlas MD in Wichita, Kansas. I remember excitedly running to find my spouse to tell her all about it that evening. I was so intrigued by the model, I was immediately hooked. And even though I knew the traditional medicine model I was in as an employee at that time was toxic for me, it still took me nearly 2 years to act on it. Not because the process is hard, but because I needed the right mindset and star alignment to get over the voice in my head telling me to stay put.
As soon as I decided to start back clinical practice, I knew it had to be on my own terms. My first order of business was to call the Texas Medical Board and enquire about my idea to only attend to at-risk youth aged 8 years to 18 years who are the exact population that I speak and write about. When the lady on the telephone told me I could, that was one of the happiest days of my life! Her words were something like “ma’am, as long as you are licensed to practice in this state, you can see only those born on the 5th of May if you like”. That essentially spun off my dream to open my own youth health center that would cater to the children that had picked me those many moons ago!
Do you know that it took me less than 6 weeks and cost me less than $10,000 to set up? I have a micro DPC practice model, that means I have no front or back office, no fancy equipment, no staff, and an expected patient panel of less than 300, compared to nearly 2000 which I had at my last place of employment. The way my practice is set up, I shall see only 6-8 patients a day for up to 1hour or more per visit, three days a week, compared to 35-45 patients at my last multigroup practice employment. My monthly overhead is far less than I had when I owned a traditional practice, my EHR is user-friendly and convenient, my stress level is low, my patients are happy, and so am I 🙂
While this might not work for many, it works for me and others with a small niche. My friend, Dr. Amber Price of Willow Pediatrics up in Chicago, Illinois’s niche is only newborns. She incorporates home visits as part of her practice. Yet another friend, Dr. Sara Sultz of the DOC group up in College Station, Texas does home visits as well as telemedicine as part of her pediatric DPC practice. She even gives vaccines and IVF right there in the patient’s home! Such is the new way to practice medicine, and I am proud to be a part of it, and to announce that I am the first and only pediatrician in Texas and the US with my specific niche in this particular model.
So, what exactly is DPC? And why is #yourstruly so elated about it? Ironically, many of the doctors that I speak with have never heard about it. A few have heard about concierge medicine, but not many, much like I was a few short years ago.
In the Direct Primary Care practice model, the emphasis is on affordable care. In its purest form, no insurance or third-party payer is accepted. That right there puts the first nail in the burnout coffin! I was like “whaaat?” No insurance means; I. Get. To. See. My. Patients. For. As. Long. As. I. Want. To! Yassss!! We do encourage patients to keep their health insurance, and some practices will even generate invoices that might be reimbursed by the patient’s insurance after each visit. The model is based on a flat monthly fee in exchange for services, longer times spent with the patient, more intimate doctor-patient relationship, overall lower healthcare costs, direct access to patients both virtually and in person, improved work-life balance for physicians; thus drastically reducing burnout, reduced patient load, and reduced administrative costs and overhead burdens. The increased intimacy with patients is a huge win for me, especially with the niche I see. Like any business, the fees vary depending on location and market competition.
The key here is; it is a membership model, much like Netflix or your gym membership. My patients have access to my cell phone number to call, text, email or facetime me whenever they need to, and they can be seen, as many times as they like to, each month! My question to you is; when was the last time you had that kind of access to your doctor? Let’s take for instance a 14 year old who is experiencing a depressive crisis at 2pm in the afternoon while at school, they would have the ability to call or text me right away, and not have to wait until they get home, inform their parent, who calls the next day only to get an appointment for the next week, take time off from work and school to arrive at the appointment, only to wait for one hour in the waiting room, and the doctor spends all of 10 minutes seeing them. Then wait another 2-3 months to get an appointment with the psychiatrist who may or may not accept their insurance, or is very likely to charge them 2 or 3 times my monthly fee for only one visit! Get it? #aintnobodygottimefordat!
Some DPC doctors are set up like traditional practices with office staff, laboratories, X-ray equipment, EKGs, and whatever else they need. Depending on state laws some also dispense medication in their practices, (Texas aint one of them…:) all for the same flat monthly fee. It’s just like a gym membership or Netflix for your doctor! In my case, for less than a cup of coffee at #Starbuxx my patients can see me everyday. Oh, and they don’t need to live in San Antonio Texas, I also have telemedicine included in the practice, so I can consult with patients virtually. Other services I am so proud we offer are a teen-2-teen support group (because teens speak teen, they don’t speak adult) and parent coaching, both of which I facilitate.
For now, I am loving DPC. It affords me time in my week to “mother” my children the way I want, be an awesome spouse to my Beloved, make time in the week to blog, work on my speaking gigs, record and edit my podcast; Suicide Pages with Dr. Lulu, The Podcast, you can subscribe, download and listen to it here and everywhere you listen to podcasts. I am finishing up my second book, a chronicle about Teen Life (my first book; a Parenting Guide, can be bought here). I have many more tricks up my sleeves in the coming weeks, so #staytuned.
In conclusion, I believe I have found my happy place in medicine again. While DPC might not be for everyone, it is for me, and it might be for you too, think about it. You never know. Here’s what you do, first start by conquering, silencing or banishing that voice telling you you can’t do it, the rest will fall in place. Ultimately, Happy Patient: Happy Doctor is what we all seek, right? Keeping it simple is what our mom’s taught us, yes?
So, I ask this time, dear doctor, will you DPC?
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as the sea, or an ocean. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something that is better.”
― C. JoyBell C.
“What time is it? The time of our lives. Anticipation. What time is it?” Summertime. School’s out, scream and SHOUT!” A familiar tune from High School Musical-2.
Yes, it is summer time, and time for our children to come home for a break, as they ascend to the next phase of school. If you are a parent of sons like me, you are dreading the incipient refrigerator raids and perpetually empty pantry as a result of their constant snacking and eating. And just like me, you are also reminded that there is a 2-3 month break between now and next school year, and you are filled with dread about what to do, and how to fill in that time with meaningful activities for them.
Well, worry no more! Here are my tried and tested, no-fail ideas for activities for your teens. I have used these tricks for nearly 10yrs as my sons have transitioned from middle to high school, and now to college. However, my sons are very different, so some of the ideas had to be modified for each child, but for the most part, they worked.
Since they are often just returning from a stressful school semester or year (whether you are home-schooling or they are in traditional schools) I often allow them to take the first week or two off to de-stress, rest and relax from the drama of school work. This short period of downtime comprises of sleep, eating, more sleep, their assigned housework and whatever else they like to do to entertain themselves. As you can guess, it’s mostly video games to their cell phones, listening to music and back to video games…ugh! Because two of my boys play musical instruments, they are often also rehearsing their various musical instruments.
We often have dinner together as a family, and just talk. We talk about school, what they learned during the entire year, and simply catch up on each other. No electronics are allowed during this “sacred time”. This is usually the most fun time for me, in particular. I do miss them a lot when they are gone, and even the youngest who is still at home is mostly “gone” during the school year because of his homework obligations, extracurricular activities and an early bedtime. So, we try to enjoy each other this first week.
This is also the time we call grandparents and extended family members to catch up on them.
This is something very important to me. As a pediatrician, I always ensure my patients schedule their annual physicals during the summertime when school is out, to avoid missing out on school. The appointments can also be made earlier in lieu of school closing if you like. In addition, the doctor’s offices are not often as busy because most folks are out of town on vacation. This is when you want to schedule them for their vision, their dental, general well-child exams, and get updates on their vaccines and other minor issues that might have come up while they were in school.
Since I have sons, this is also the time to get their own personal hygiene taken care of. They get a nice hair cut for the summer, refill on their allergy medications or any meds at all, and get new clothes if needed for those who have had a growth spurt during the school year. I do realize some parents wait until the end of summer to do the back to school shopping, and that is also fine.
Read a book or two
As an avid reader, this is one activity I don’t compromise on. Luckily, most middle and high schools often have summer reading assigned to the students, and that is a bonus for my children. I require as a rule that my sons read for 2 hrs daily, for every 2 hrs of video games they play! They absolutely hate this, but they still do it. What I often do is, take them along with me to the library or make them go to the library for 2hrs daily. It ends up being fun for them, but not before they have complained a lot. Reading in the summer also helps keep their academic skills going. This way they don’t forget some of the stuff they were taught during the school year. Summer reading is somewhat more fun because the teens have the freedom to pick whichever book they like to read and read at their own pace. We often block 10am-12noon for reading, that way, we all read together, and it becomes a bonding activity at the same time.
Finally, they have to do a book report on the books they have read, and we have a day or two set aside to discuss the books them. Once in a while, they want to re-read their old favorites, and I allow them, as long as they read.
For those of you who know me, you know that I am very big on volunteering. It is one of my most enjoyable past times. Teens could volunteer at home, or in a more structure set up like the regional hospital. Helping others, not only builds empathy, but it also builds compassion, mindfulness and a healthy dose of kindness and gratitude, and helps your teens learn the value of giving back to the community. These are a few of the guiding principles I discuss in my brand new Amazon bestseller, “How to Raise Well Rounded Children” available on Amazon or on my website.
I believe that volunteering not only builds character, it also opens one’s mind up to experiences well beyond their personal imagination, and will ultimately help create a much better world for you and me. If you have not tried volunteering yet, do try it. Register your age-appropriate teens for various volunteering opportunities. Check this list for ideas of places you could all volunteer this summer. Remember, these experiences could also last into their adult years, so go for it.
Get that summer job
Beginning around the age of 13yr in most states in the US, most teens can start working. It could be around the home as babysitters, dogsitters, mowing the lawn, or other odd jobs to get paid by their parents. As they get older, the type and complexity of the jobs change and before you know it, they are older teens working in the corporate world.
I love the idea of teens working for pay, be it minimum wage or more organized pay because it is often their first taste of adulthood. It is also the best way to teach them responsibility, time management, money management, and independence. It is the ideal introduction into their employee or entrepreneurial future. While my eldest son just qualified to drive uber 3days ago when he turned 21yr, he has been holding down 2 jobs at Stanford since his early days as a freshman. Though reluctantly, he worked at Pizza Hut as a young teen, and that helped encourage his immediate younger brother to also seek employment at Pizza Hut in his high school days. Both sons are well versed in money and time management today, thanks to an early work habit. Not to be left out, my 14yr old youngest son was actually employed at his middle school this past school year as a football referee.
The money earned from work can be used for their own personal needs or saved in the bank, invested or used to help out their parents. One thing I made sure I did for each of my sons as soon as they turned 18yr was to open up an investment account for them. The accounts are funded by their own employment earnings. If you are not doing this yet, I strongly suggest you consider it. In all, working as a teen has much more benefits, than not.
Whether it’s learning a new language by immersion, learning how to save and budget money, drawing up a functional itinerary, becoming independent and responsible for oneself, or learning about and experiencing different cultures, (foreign) travel is the ultimate way to spend a summer. It could be a study abroad program as part of a college or grade school curriculum, or a family vacation, or simply traveling together with friends. Either way, teens can learn a lot about the world at large by actually experiencing it. They develop critical thinking skills, tolerance for others, communication in foreign languages, and an open-minded world view.
As a teen, I studied French in high school and got a rare opportunity to travel to Togo, and Benin Republic, two neighboring countries to Nigeria where French is the Lingua Franca. I also got traveled to Germany, the United Kingdom, and Greece as a young adult. All these countries shaped my life and my personality today. More recently, my children and I have visited Canada, The Bahamas, and Mexico. My eldest son toured Europe with the Stanford Orchestra last summer and came back a changed man. He sang praises about Europe and can’t wait to go back when he is older. His brother will sign up for a study abroad program with his Architecture class from Texas Tech next academic year. All three children have visited Nigeria numerous times.
I cannot overemphasize the power of travel to the developing mind. I am almost inclined to declare that “the traveler lives his or her life twice as much; first as themselves, then through the people, they meet in the course of their travels”.
Hang out with their friends
Summertime is a time for reconnection with (old) friends. Your teen should be allowed to travel with or simply hang out with their friends (vetted or not). Good friends balance you out as much as bad friends do, and teens can actually learn a lot about themselves through their friends.
Case in point: My middle son is already home from college. He asked to go hang out with his friends a few days ago. I let him take the car. He returned within an hour. Puzzled, I enquired about his early return home. He explained that his friends had decided to hang out at the pool and drink alcohol at 5pm in the afternoon! Since he does not drink alcohol, he opted to return home. I was filled with so much pride and admiration for him. He made the right call. The safe call, all on his own. He chose to not hang out with his friends that afternoon because he “knew they were going to eventually get drunk and he did not want to be around them”.
Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps develop self-esteem and confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, like being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing. A teen’s friends can be a powerful influence, positive or negative, and the teen must know when to say no to the negative influences of such friends.
In all, allow your teens to live their lives out loud this summer. You have done most of the hard work, the rest is on them. Remember to listen to words said and unsaid, and in all things, live your best life as a parent, so they can emulate you, their first and most important teacher.
“You become the choices that you make, so choose wisely” ~ Dr. Lulu
“Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!”… Dr. Lulu
Last Friday as I found myself finishing up the last day of the last week of my 27-month journey into the land of a Masters in Business Administration at UTSA, my heart was a mixture of all sorts of emotions, the strongest of which was joy! Since I couldn’t keep it to myself, I did an impromptu FB Live and literarily broke into song and dance on screen! I no longer have to stay up late studying and doing homework EVERY NIGHT. I can now stop using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to do). I get to add those coveted three letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much-needed rest (umm, say what?) Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed at 11pm every night (yeah right!) I finally, realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the black gown and black “crown”, and as an added treat, I get to wear VA cords!
In September of 2016, my 4yr term as a Lt Col. in the United States AirForce came to an end. In deciding what to do next, I realized I had multiple options to pick from; join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school and get a Masters Degree, or get a regular job as a pediatrician. I decided to go for the last two options. And no, I had no specific “why”, I simply wanted to use the VA educational funds I was entitled to, it was more like a “why not?”. The decision was met with a combination of gasps, shock, surprise and some reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste too much time chewing on a thought, I jumped in with two feet (before I lost my nerve) Coincidentally, my first son was about to go into college at the same time and my spouse had also decided to get her Masters degree as well…so, I was in good, no, great company! (That sh** just about cost us our union, but that’s another day’s blog, LOL)
Later that month, as I was walking out of my job interview at Communicare Health Centers, I remember wondering to myself how I would manage a full-time work schedule and a full-time school schedule. I had initially wanted to do the combined MPH/MBA program, but FEAR and its close friend DOUBT, proceeded to discourage me and talk me out of it, so I settled for just the MBA. I was as excited as I was anxious! My colleagues, (after getting over the initial disbelief) quickly got on board and started cheering me on. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija Igbo Woman foot forward (as per we no de eva carray last) and started the regular MBA at UTSA. Not online, in person, albeit, nearly 30 years post graduation from medical school, owning my own private practice for nearly 15 of those years and doing a brief 4yr stint as a Lt. Col in the US Air Force! I was going about mine backwards.
The first semester went like a breeze (or did it?) I now only remember that I had a hard time getting used to not only going back to school but also going back to school in the tech age! Just like my initial shock when I first came to the USA which I shared here in this earlier blog, going back to school, in America, was FULL of new experiences…!
First off, I was one of, if not the oldest student in that regular MBA class! I was not happy about that at all. I hated the fact that I was in class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds. Their mannerisms were a total lack, they were disrespectful, noisy, lackadaisical, and sometimes rude to the professors(s). What struck me the most was their tendency to not do the work! They were very content with not showing up for class, joining in class discussions or even doing their portion of the school work at all… (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that after that first semester, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. Luckily, she was kind enough to understand my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I was really lucky because I literally made the interview on the last day! Reminds me of a similar incident with Howard University Hospital Residency interview, I also talked about here. Thankfully, I got in! Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intradepartmental transfer. She hit the jackpot with that suggestion because once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I TOTALLY LOVED the idea! However, a couple of my “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it all…”make sure it is not a watered down version of an MBA”, is it an E-MBA as in online/electronic? “are you going to have a real MBA degree when you get done?” and, “why de heck are you even going back to school, aren’t you tired?” Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love?
At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap was not nearly as much. The youngest in my class was 31 yrs old. They had all seen life and lived it a little. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were much more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their school work. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. A few were veterans like me, a few were foreigners like me, a few were mothers of kids in college like me, a few were divorced like me, and one was not only the other one Black person, he is also Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! I believe I lucked out!
In spite of all that, the school work was still a huge challenge for me. I had to get used to school the American way. Folks actually call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the very early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were really black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of the word office-hours, luckily, my son who was then a freshman at Stanford University explained what that meant to me. I had no idea what it meant to access library books online, and be able to “check them out” virtually? What de? As shocking as these findings were to me, there was more to come.
As the only physician and one of 2 Blacks of the lot, 33 of us to be exact, I had no one else wearing my exact shoes, hmmmm. I had no one to hold on to when Statistics got tough (yea, I know, I did biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, but certainly not Anova or Covariance Analysis) I had no one to hold on to when Accounting reared its ugly head, or when Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, who was visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints from me). As a self-proclaimed hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account) I loathe Excel…still do! First of all, I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting, and Finance, WHY!? All of which made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ office. Every now and again, I did feel lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win the little battles.
Economics was good as long as it was Macro Economics and the professor who worked for the FED was a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. Still, I spent too many afternoons in his office at the high-security Federal Building downtown San Antonio. Corporate Restructuring was okay at the start until we got deeper into the mathematical aspects and calculations, then it ceased to be fun. Since I love words, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy for me because I had no numbers to worry about, furthermore, I LOVE reading and discussions. Looking back now, one of my favorite subjects was Leadership. Not only was our professor really cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned about myself and my own flavor of leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed the final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class. Oh, my talk was on the power of the word, NO.
One of my favorite experiences during my business school was Executive Coaching. As a matter of fact, I owe my executive coach, my entire career journey today. She is one cool Chica. She used to work for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge and she helped me figure out who I am/was, and what I wanted to do with my life after school. Truth be told, I only signed up for the MBA partially because the VA was footing the bill, and partially because I used to counsel my subordinates in the Air Force to take advantage of the GI Bill and Post 911 educational grants and go back to school and further their education. I never even thought I could do it, but I had to heed my own advice.
I must say the highlight of our entire MBA experience was the 12day international trip to South East Asia! A trip that cost me the attendance of my youngest brother’s wedding in Nigeria, which just happened to have been scheduled for the exact same day. We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning and went through LAX. The 17hour flight both ways was no match for the excitement I felt in finally seeing the world famous Singapore and Vietnam! I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember listening to the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. It is an example of how hard work pays off no matter what. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit (one of my faves). After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!
I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern architecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously in spite of differences in religion, language, customs, cultures, etc. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing old Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut…her smell, her heart, the essence of her being my Nne Akuobu. As unbelievable as the trip was, I topped it up, by finishing the final edits of my first of many Amazon bestsellers on the plane ride home! BTW, get your copy on Amazon or on my website, it is the best parenting book ever! 😉
I shall miss school. I have always been studious. I have always had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not quite as good as it used to be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA 🙂 I earned it. Considering I got the degree after I have already been in private practice for nearly 30yrs, and considering I have no idea what I am going to do with it…yet, I am still thankful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had NO WHY, I simply did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still gat it after all these years, or simply because…
In ending, I would like to say; just like that, my 27month program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! If I could do it, with my schedule, you can do it too! Peace still.
My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD/MBA, and I approve this message.
My first Out Of The Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.
A day that opened my eyes to the reality and the magnitude of this problem.
I found out about this day from my nurse at work. I signed up after my good friend Mari told me she had signed up. I signed up not knowing exactly what it was going to be like, but trusting that the day was going to be…in the very least, fine. I signed our team up and placed the info on my website, partially expecting and also not expecting much response to the call for donations. While no donations came indirectly, I managed to gather a team of about 15 walkers through the help of my good friend Mari, totaling about 375usd!.
The day started like any other. We arrived early. The first emotion that struck me was that of amazement, at the number of cars already in the parking lot, even though the walk was to start about 2hrs later.
There was a sea of colors of tee-shirts, most in groups, a few scattered around, all there for one thing, in remembrance of a loved one. There were purple tees, white tees, green tees, red tees, blue tees, and multicolored ones. There were people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, teens and young adults, toddlers and even a couple of babies. But one thing struck me hard; they were mostly Hispanics. About 99% strong! Where are the Caucasians?? Most studies I have read indicate that White males are the leading sex in Suicide, so where are they? And what about the African Americans? Do we not suffer from depression, do we not commit suicide? Are the recent studies about African American children aged 5-12yr being more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts incorrect? Wait! I know what this is. This is the grand state of denial that is so rampant in our community. As a Nigerian, I dare to say this problem started from the Mother-land where mythic quotes like the following run rampant. “We don’t get depressed”, “such things don’t happen to our people”, “we can pray it away”, “it’s a sign of weakness, and of laziness”, “depression is not even real”, “those medications do not help, they actually make you worse”, “therapy? please, that is for Hollywood, we are black folk, we do not dotherapy… Or my favorite, “don’t tell anyone you are depressed, we don’t want them to start looking at you/our family funny”.
I walk around distributing my business cards to different teams, introducing myself and explaining what I do, sharing my story about my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and my own son’s depression,(which I totally did not recognize while it was happening) I notice folks sporting different color beads signifying the kind of loved one that has been lost: White for children, orange for siblings, blue for support, red for spouses, etc. I pick up some beads for my team, my wife lost her brother to suicide. On my way back to my team, I hug as many as will accept my hugs as we wait for the ceremony to begin. Some of them have lost multiple family members to suicide.
After the opening ceremony, the names of the victims are read out, I again am amazed that my assumptions are right. A huge percentage of the names called out today are Hispanic.
The organizers are happy to announce that over 64,000usd were raised so far, over 273 teams registered (many more are not in organized teams), at least 300 names are called ( I don’t have the actual count, but the name calling went on for at least 30 minutes or more. They inform us it’s a 5K walk, kicked off by the release of white balloons by the family members in honor of the lives lost. Again, I am amazed, excited at the opportunity to be a part of this, yet saddened by it all.
Along the trail, I speak to dozens of parents and family members affected by suicide. It’s easy to find the parents, they are wearing white beads, they are not as animated as everyone else, and you know that look when you see their eyes. I interview a few of them, I hug ALL of them, I am touched deeply by their stories.
One young man who took his life just last month was only 25yr old. His parents still obviously devastated. His mom says she “sleeps with his picture every night, and talks to it every day”. She has lots and lots of unanswered questions. His grandmother found him in the backyard in Austin, sadly, they were not able to make it on time to the hospital.
Another mother was carrying the picture of her son-in-law. He had first served in the Army, then joined the police force, but his PTSD got the better of him.
When asked who he was walking for, one little boy simply pointed to the picture on his tee-shirt and said, “my uncle”. He had never met him.
I met yet another mom, this time, of a young 10yr old boy, who would have been 13yr this year, she is still crying for her baby lost. He had been bullied. A lot. I hugged and hugged and hugged her, and held on a little while longer. She found him hanging from his bunk bed, his belt around his neck.
Yet another beautiful lady, Ms. Alyssa’s younger sister, Marisa, spoke to me. Alyssa had battled with depression for a long time and finally lost. The words inscribed on the back of Marisa’s tee-shirt read “I have run the race, I have fought the fight, now I lay me down to rest”. Her own prescription antidepressants, her path to said rest. The sisters’ resemblance is so uncanny that Marisa’s own daughter (who never met her aunt) always calls her ‘mommy’ each time she sees her photograph. It has been six years.
The heartbreaking story of a handsome 17yr old was shared with me by his maternal aunt. She told me he had attempted suicide three times in the past. He had gotten help, he was on medication, and getting counseling, but (in her words) “the demons got to him before we could”, this happened on September 18, 2018. So fresh is it, that his mother could not bear to come for the walk.
Then, I talked at length with one mother whose team carried the flag of the Cycle Around The Globe for Suicide Prevention and Awareness. Her son, a former Special Ops US Marine, spent only 9yrs active duty, but deployed 8 times in that short time! When he eventually got out in 2012, he battled nightmares, sleepless nights, and severe PTSD. He could only sleep when heavily medicated. He eventually tired of “the voices in his head” and one single bullet did it for him, only 3yrs after he got out, a few days after his 30th birthday. “He will forever be 30” she added at the end of her story. Again, all I can do is hug her, and hold on a little longer.
On the homeward trail, I walked up to a nurse and her co-worker, both walking for someone else. She shared that her friend and ex-boyfriend had taken his own life soon after his 60th birthday. His story is unique because she states in retrospect she now realized that, after they reunited 40yr later, he had one day suddenly started “acting out” his desire to end his life, he was making specific requests like going to visit a cemetery to “say goodbye”, returning to the place they had their first date, giving away his belongings and generally no longer caring about the world. She remembers he stopped wanting to hang out with her, and only wanted to talk about death.
The last two stories are etched in my mind. The first is from my good friend Mari, who shared that a long time ago, her friend and classmate in nursing school had gotten dressed for work one morning, arranged all her nursing books against the walls of the garage, got in the car, turned on the ignition, closed the garage door, and went to eternal sleep. Her husband found her when he returned from work. She had 2 children.
The second is from the only non-Hispanic family that I met during the walk today. There were at least 15-20 of them in their team, walking for the family Patriarch. I recognized the non-Hispanic name right away and wanted to speak with them. I spoke to his wife, his son and his daughter, as well as the rest of their family friends and relatives. He was Indian. It’s been one year.
I, myself have felt the pain of depression. I have felt the need to end it all. I didn’t, my wifener wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was a failure, a disappointment. My first marriage was over, my private practice sold for zero dollars profit. The military was stressful, and I had to file bankruptcy following bad business choices in my private practice, stemming from a poorly qualified practice manager in the person of my ex-husband. Somewhere along the line, I felt I had failed myself more than anything. I wanted out. All my pairs of shoes, my fancy designer handbags, and even my beloved children did not save me. I simply felt that ending it all was just what the world needed. I was a failure. My marriage had failed, my practice had failed, and I had failed, and nothing you could have told me would have made a difference. Luckily, my wife would not hear of it and went all the way out there, in the darkness to find me and bring me back. I owe my life to her.
In the end, I can only say that I am thankful for the Out Of The Darkness Suicide Awareness walk, thankful for the experience, thankful for the stories shared, for the hugs given and received, and praying that the families can find closure, somehow. Thankful for my family that came out to support me, my wifener who walked for her brother; mi Madre, my biggest cheerleader; and my little man-child for trouping along. Mari and her family and friends who walked with team Teen Alive, for the sparkle they added to a cloudy day. And to all those who walk for their loved ones, in the words of a Kenyan proverb, “may the grass you stand and walk on, sprout again”, and may you never have any cause to weep for your loved ones again, Amen.
Howdy? Long time! Just wanted to touch base and check in with you. I am having a fabulous life, you? So, after about one month off from my Rideshare seat, I returned to it today, and as usual, I was pleasantly delighted to meet my clients. The beautiful thing about Rideshare is you never know who you might pick up next. My clients are often so different from each other. Each one teaches me a new and different lesson about life. Again, that is why I do this. The story goes like this… I am writing a book on teens, depression, and suicide. I woke up this morning and as usual, I worked on a couple of chapters, but I just didn’t feel like it was flowing the I wanted, I was having a hard time getting into my characters’ minds to tell their stories, so I declared to my mother “I NEED a depressed and suicidal teen in my life right now!”. I proceeded to explain why, when I saw the puzzled expression on her face. We both shrugged and concluded that-that was going to be a tough one to pull off. So, I go about my business for the day.
Later on, since my numéro très had a birthday party to attend for 2 whole hours, I decided to seize the opportunity, take a break from my preparation for my Executive MBA midterms next weekend, and go online on my UberXL/Lyft apps to see if anyone was interested in a fun ride with Dr. Lulu! Unbeknownst to me, the Good Lord was going to use my clients today to show me yet again that He alone is Lord and King and more importantly, the Author of the universe.
My first client, whom we shall call “Joe” was picked up less than a mile away, he was going in for his night shift at the “Howl at the Moon” downtown San Antonio. We exchange pleasantries, and I decide on a whim to give him one of my brand new business cards and inform him that I am a Public Speaker on Teen/Young Adult depression and suicide. He, in turn, gives me two free admission coupons to HATM, with discounts on happy hour drinks etc, and proceeds to sign me up for their email list for more (free) Happy Hour goodies! I am elated, accept my coupons graciously, thank him, and self-declared it would be a good shift for me today because I had started my day literarily touched by an angel. I inquire about his choice of music vs my audible book. He says he doesn’t really care, he would rather watch “Sex and The City” on his phone, and he would have his earbuds on. We both settle in for the ride downtown, and I proceed to continue listening to my “Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris”. As we approach downtown, I shut the audible off to focus on the traffic and the people, I ask him if he heard about the 12yr-old boy who had committed suicide in a nearby town lately, his response almost knocked me off my seat! “Oh yes! my co-worker’s younger brother is his best friend, they are from Jourdanton” was his immediate response! I had never mentioned the name of the town, but he knew the right one… At this, I am completely speechless at the smallness of this world! What are the odds? How could it be? But it sure was. Sitting right behind me, in my car, was someone who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew the 12-year old that had been bullied on to taking his own life at a local middle school yesterday! Wow! I LOOOOVE doing this!
Next, I pick up a (two couple) party of 4 baby boomers at the Westin. One of them is disabled and has a wheelchair. Though my Sasha is a 7/8 seater UberXL-ready 2017 Toyota Highlander, they had the hardest time getting that wheelchair to fit in her trunk. They eventually did, and I sensed they were a bit flustered with the entire process. When I asked my usual icebreaker question “so how has everyone’s day been today?”, they all grunt and puff and reply “it has been a rough one”. Trying to cheer them up, I gingerly quip, “well, at least we are on our way to fun now”, to which one of the ladies retorted, “well, we are late to our event”. I think to myself, I had nada to do with it, then I hear myself say “well this Saturday evening downtown traffic is not going to help that”… an awkward silence follows. Then I change lanes and perk up by sharing a bit about what I do as I distribute my business cards. Front seat guy now informs me that they are from Florida, but he would certainly keep my card and keep me in mind…I am like, YES! We have some small talk about hurricane Michael and its toll. Things get a bit worse when the address that he had put in as their destination on the Uber Navigation, was in the middle of the nowhere! not Shuck Shack, on Grayson and Broadway as they had wanted. Turns out all that initial frustration I had sensed was because they were with a food tasting party and had missed their bus! A couple of phone calls and a couple more U-turns later, they are safely delivered to their destination. “Bon Appetit”, I think to myself as they say their thank yous and I drive off.
I hop over to Nueva Vista, an enchanted and quaint neighborhood tucked away next to the Pearl to pick up a couple who right away complement me on Sasha. I thank them and start my usual icebreaker questions. He quickly responds, “we are doing fine, but we are interested in this your car, we are looking for a multi-seater vehicle”. I happily tell them everything I can about my Sasha, as he tells me to ignore the Uber navigation system, and proceeds to guide me through their wonderful enchanted streets instead. I note the air is different there. I inform him that I am officially in love with his side of town. We make a right turn into San Pedro on our way to the movie theater on Route 410 and he points out Alta Vista a sister neighborhood on the left, another whimsical looking part of town. As I drop them off, I note to myself (be sure to bring the wifey here for a “romantical” drive someday) Ironically, his wife or rather, lady companion did not so much as utter a single word throughout the ride, and I can’t even remember if she said goodbye. But before I could process that thought, I got a chime to pick up my next client.
Handsome “Diego” joins my space at North Star Mall. He is an energetic, mid-to-late-twenties sweet smelly, colorful young man, getting off his shift at Michael Kors. He gets in the front seat, acknowledges my white LV Neverfull which I pick up and place on the floor in the middle row, thank him for the compliment, and tell him to get comfortable, as we start our ride. With a megawatt smile, he shares that he is “dog tired” because even though he had known he had to be at work this morning at 0900hrs, he had proceeded to go out last night, and got back really late. I go into mama-bird-mode and we talk a bit about growing up and taking responsibility for actions and such. We talk a bit more about his dreams and somehow get to the topic of his roommate with whom he had had a recent fight, he gently adds that he had bought him a small (make-up) gift from MK because he “hates the energy in their apartment when they argue and fuss”. I am full of admiration for this young man, who wants to make the world a better place, one gift at a time. I like him. We arrive at his apartments shortly thereafter, but he remains in the car because he is telling me all about the recent shooting at Pegasus downtown. Apparently, he had been there that night. He recounts how his mother had unusually texted him up to three times that night, the last text coming just minutes before the shooting. He says he suspects his mom somehow sensed something bad was going to happen and had been trying to reach him. I share my own mama-bird story about me and my son at Stanford, the night I had seen him in a dream reaching out to me, I had woken up with tears in my eyes, and when I called him, it turned out he was burning up in a fever and needed his Mama. An instant friendship is born. Diego left my car after earning one of my world famous warm hugs and promising to text me his employee discount code at MK…another satisfied client.
To pick up Ms. Megan, I had to make several U-turns, drive into the gated apartment complex, and wait for almost 2 minutes. As Uber starts charging her for my wait, I note a tall slim female approaching the car. As she walks up to me, wearing the latest millennial garb of a black mid-section-revealing-cropped-tee, on black double slashed jeans and tousled hair, I note that she is easy on the makeup and I think to myself with a corner smile… “that is exactly what my daughter would be wearing if I had one”. She greets me pleasantly, apologizes for her lateness, gets in the middle row, I move my Neverfull back up front, and she gets comfy. Right away I sense she has had a sad life. She has an ever so slight air of melancholy. I note that unlike most teens her age, she is not on her phone. She is not texting, she is not talking, she is looking straight ahead, both hands resting on her thighs and deep in thought. I remark on that, to break the ice, and she smiles ever so slightly. I know I am right. I start telling her about what I do, give her my business card. She asks for more cards and the next 23 minutes fill me with more awe than I could have ever imagined. She opens up and says the words that every parent of a teenager or everyone who is acquainted with one would give money to hear… “that is pretty cool that you are doing that”… I smile as I say, “thank you”. Then she not only proceeds to tell me that at her high school, they have had 7 suicides in the past 5 years, (the last two in the past year, one of which its anniversary is today!), but that she herself has had not one, or two, but three attempts at suicide! I CANNOT believe my ears! Earlier this morning, when I had asked the universe for a suicidal teen, I had absolutely NO IDEA this was in store for me. I thank the good Lord immensely, reach back with my right hand and take her right hand, she grabs it with both hands. and holds on, and I simply let her hold it as long as she needs to. I take a long deep breathe after she gets off at the LongHorn Steakhouse on I-35 South, shake my head slightly, and vow henceforth, to only speak out, that which I know I really want because it will come to pass.
Last stop for the evening was about a mile up the road on I-35 south. I pick up four Airmen from “the best tattoo place in town” according to front seat guy. They are young, late teens, early twenties-ish, full of life, and bright expectations for what the future has to offer in the best Air Force in the world, the United States Air Force, “first in flight”. After back row seat guy curses twice, I clear my throat and proceed to tell them I am a veteran of the USAF and ask how they were doing. Front seat guy tells me they are recent basic training grads from Lackland AFB, and currently at Camp Bullis for Security Forces training. Then comes a barrage of questions from all of them at the same time; “did you go through OTS?”, “did you ever get to deploy?”, “what do you think about Tyndall AFB?”, “would you do it again if given a chance?”, “what’s life like on the outside after a brief taste of the inside?” “did you do your 20yrs?” “what did you do while you were in?” etc. I smile and try my very best to address all of their concerns. One tells me he is from Kansas and would love to be stationed at McConnell AFB after I mention my brief manning-assist there. Another wants to know if I know anyone at Robbins AFB in Georgia, yet another asks me what I think about going in the reserves afterward, and then another wants to know about Alaska and if I could confirm that it is truly considered an overseas deployment. I marvel at all of this. It turns out to be such a fun trip, but I made sure I still got time to squeeze in a quick note on depression and suicide and the need to ensure they formulate good relationships and stick to the straight and narrow. By the time I drop them off at Top Golf I feel truly fulfilled and thankful for a fairly eventful and awesome shift. In a little under 3hours, I feel I have gained much more in knowledge than the nearly 80usd I have earned in cash today.
“if you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shinning”
After a month-long hiatus from my Rideshare seat, I finally got to do some Uberizing this past weekend.
Oh, you didn’t think a doctor could be a Rideshare driver? Dude, I have heard about company executives doing just that, try it, you just might like it. You can thank me later.
Dr. Lulu’s Rideshare began as some sort of a dare. My eldest son at Stanford was spending so much money on Rideshares at school, that I was like, “son, with all this money you are spending on Uber and Lyft you should probably be driving Uber to help your mama out when you come home on your vacations”. He agreed in theory, but in the end, since he was too young to sign up, he said, “mom, you are over 21, why don’t you sign up?” you love to meet people, and you love talking. One thing led to the other, and I found myself driving Uber/Lyft, and totally LOVING it! The “funnest” part has been the facial expressions I get from most people when I tell them what my “day job” is. It is so different, yet similar, to my life in a white coat. I ask questions, I listen to stories and I give feedback. And with all the talk about physician burn out, this has indeed been a much-needed stress reliever for me personally, I can go incognito, or I can go as myself, but in the end, it is has been about the people and their stories.
So, buckle up and enjoy the ride… my Uber tales.
After class that Friday (I am currently getting my executive MBA at UTSA), I picked up a family headed to the Alamodome for the UTSA vs Texas State game, go RUNNERS! As it turned out, they were from out of town and were going to watch their first ever live college football game! I was delighted simply to be their preferred mode of transportation. Their excitement was palpable. And in the 18-20 minutes, it took for the ride, I got to listen and learn from one of them basically breaking down the game of football to all of us; from interceptions to fumbles, to 6-point touchdowns to Hail Marys and field goals, and everything in between. I gladly shared that my sons played instruments in their respective high school marching bands, so I have heard those words often thrown around, but never really knew their meanings. I thanked them for the free lesson. First clients for the day… that, went well.
Next, were about 3 short trips around the downtown area, mostly to the game or to hotels around town… I was so glad to finally pick up clients headed out of the downtown area… all those one-way streets, road closures, and human traffic can give a girl a slight headache. The passengers, 2 girls both dressed in black skimpies, destination, Still Golden, a bar on Broadway Street. They appeared irritated and annoyed about something. They spoke in Spanish to each other in short sentences. They were either not in the mood for banter, or had had enough for the day, I was only too happy to leave the downtown area, so I was totally cool with their demeanor. After one wrong exit, and a U-turn, I eventually made it to their destination, they got out and said their thank yous. I kind of sensed that wrong turn did not help their moods too much, but oh well, it was all good by me. Next, I picked up a very happy group of middle-agers going only 1 1/2 miles up the road but didn’t wish to walk. I said, “hop in, and I will gladly take you”. During our short but interesting convo, they were very content to encourage me and my side-hustle and blessed my day with their presence. The main lady has just moved to San Antonio and is wishing to learn as much about the town as she can. We exchanged similar stories about raising teens in midlife and memories. Her, two boys and a girl, are about the same age as my tres hijos. Driving down Broadway, I mentioned that the Witte museum was actually around the corner from their destination. As soon as I said that, we drove up to it, and I pointed it out, to which she eagerly exclaimed… “I have been meaning to go there and visit!”, and I laughed aloud at her reaction as I responded, “so now you know exactly where it is, you should”. We bade each other a joyous farewell, and I drove on.
Next, I went back to the apartments across from Still Golden to pick up a young millennial couple heading up to the Japanese Tea Gardens. Ironically, I had observed the male of the pair earlier while dropping off the girls in black. He was walking back to his apartment building, his little dog trotting behind him. I don’t know why I singled him out in my people watching exercise, but I did. He was dressed in a well-ironed or maybe wrinkle-free white collar shirt, turn up blue jeans and a pair of loafers. He looked fresh and clean. Something about him reminded me of my eldest son…was it the turn-up jeans, the little dog he was walking or just the air of LGBT about him? I will never know, but when I picked him and his woman up, I shrugged and let the thoughts go. They informed me that the annual San Antonio Jazz Alive festival was going on at Travis park downtown. I exclaimed and offered that my eldest son and his Jazzy friends the “Four O’clock Five” had performed there only 2 years ago, I had noticed evidence of activity at the park earlier while driving through the streets of downtown, but did not know what was going on. This mention of music playing by my son sparked off keen interest from Mr. White-collar-shirt.. He eagerly asked me what instrument my son plays, and that led to a lively discussion about Flutes, Trumpets, rival football games between Brandeis high school and O’Connor high school, state competitions, marching band competitions as well as the Battle of the Band competitions in San Antonio etc. He joyfully shared that he had played the Tuba at Reagan high school. I smile and ask him if he still plays, sadly he said he hasn’t “in a while”, and I encourage him to start again. In hindsight, I guess it was the musical-instrument-playingness of him that I had sensed earlier while he walked his dog…
Driving people to and from their various destinations always gives me a mix of emotions, but every now and then, I pick up the occasional unlikely ally… like the older couple that I picked up from the airport. They offered that they haven’t been to San Antonio “in a while” and are here for what they described as a “long weekend”. I enjoyed watching the excited energy with which they entered my car, they made some nice comments about its cleanliness and nice smell and thanked me for picking them up. During our very light-hearted discusses, it came to light that the lady works as an assistant program director of a family practice residency program in Virginia. When I explained that I am a not only a Pediatrician, but I lived in Northern Virginia during my residency training at Howard University, she excitedly wanted to hear more about me. I smiled and shared a very truncated version of my story to date, she was so happy that I am following my passion and not letting anything stand in my way, that she promised to get her program director to invite me to speak to their residents about physician burnout and of course, depression and suicide in young adults. Wow! I smiled widely, looked up to the heavens, offered a wink, and whispered: “thank you”.
I believe the highlight of my night, however, was the young teen couple I picked up to take home from the game. Though San Antonio dwellers, the young girl, and her beau attend Texas State University at San Marcos. They were leaving early because according to her, the game was “pretty much over, and UTSA was pounding Texas State. She, however, cheered up when I asked her about school, and she, in turn, asked me if I had any children. I informed her that I have two in college, and one in middle school. She probed further. Wanting to know what high schools they had attended, and what schools they attended. My responses started an avalanche of excited exclamations from the two of us! She, a junior was glad to know my eldest is also a junior. However, her joy settled in when she realized he not only attended Brandeis high school, but he is at Stanford where her very best friend also attends school! She exclaimed that she was on her way to visit with him in October for her annual game day visit. I told her I might even know the kid a few moments later, it turns out I described her friend to the tee! This tickled her pink as she declared that was him! Right there in the car, she texted him and told him all about it!! Teens, what a breath of fresh air. I ended the trip by giving her young heart a hug and wishing her all the very best in life.
My last clients were 4 teenagers that had requested UbeX, all girls. I figured their ages were between16 and 19 years. One of them is in college, the other three are in high school. I enjoyed listening to their excited banter about who was coming to the party, who wasn’t, how they planned to crash another party after the first party and so on. Luckily, their destination was at The Dominion, a huge neighborhood on my side of town, home to some of the San Antonio Spurs players, their coach, and a host of other crème-de-la-crop. Prices of some of the homes begin in double-digit millions. One of the girls complimented me on my car, another complimented me on my hairpins, both made me smile, and renewed my faith in the younger generation of women. We somehow started talking about the need for us women to always uplift each other, and naturally, that was a golden opportunity for me to talk about teen depression and teen suicide. I ended up making them promise me they would always be kind to each other. We arrive at the neighborhood gates, and I discover, none of them had their IDs… what? I shook my head and smiled. Luckily, the security detail at the gate noticed my Air Force Veteran plate and shared that she had been in the Navy. We bumped fists, I gave her a knowing wink, identified myself as the Uber driver, showed her my ID, she thanked me for my service to this country, and the gates opened up. Phew!
Hopefully, you have a smile on your face, as you finish reading this piece. Hopefully, now that you know a little more about Rideshare driving, you agree with me that, indeed, life is always about the stories, the faces, the beating hearts, the people…
“Be proud of who you are and not ashamed of how someone else sees you”
PS : Happy to announce that my blog was featured on the Top 40 Women Lifestyle Blogs in 2018, check it out here.